Bartholomew Finds A Sparring Partner

Standing awkwardly with his hand resting on his rapier, Bartholomew stared at his feet for a moment. Countess Reyna was steps away pacing back and forth behind a large mahogany desk. Papers were scattered across the desk with a fountain pen broken and ink spattered across the desk. A small phone in the shape of a fish was off the hook, the receiver hanging from the cord off the desk.

“You know Bart, I've been having a hell of a day. First you appear claiming to be investigating our export logs. Which in and of itself is incredibly stupid because you're accusing us of shipping catnip to Hawks and Falcons. Do I need to explain why that's stupid?”

Bartholomew looked up and met her frustrated gaze as she paced. Of course now it all seemed a bit... silly. Why did Ricky send me here if not for a genuine investigation?

“I assure you I understand how ludicrous it all sounds. However I am under orders. Whether you choose work with me to this end is a different issue entirely.”

Fluffing her black and brown fur, her tail flicked back and forth erratically. Patting herself in the face a couple times she took a deep breath and calmed herself. Grabbing the phone cord, she pulled it up and pressed the receiver down onto the phone. Picking it back up, she pulled the circle on it six times and waited.

“Lydia, fetch me my fencing gear. Bring an extra set for Sir Bart please. Thank you dear.”

Bartholomew cocked an eyebrow and laughed inside his head. Countess Reyna no doubt could take care of herself in combat. Whether she could keep up with Bartholomew is another story entirely.

“You wish to spar with me m'lady?”

Slamming her paw on the desk, she displaced a dozen papers in the process.

“You bet your ass I do. It's nothing personal. It's just not every day I have an opportunity to spar with someone properly skilled. Judging by the craftsmanship of your sword there, you must have some level of skill. Am I wrong?”

Clever girl.

“Not at all. There is a reason I was sent here m'lady. It should prove for an interesting match.”

Cocking her head back and smiling, she eyed Bartholomew's sword.

“Care to make a wager to make it more interesting?”

That didn't sit right with Bartholomew. The way she was looking at his weapon made him believe she wanted it. Bartholomew wasn't giving it up.

“I am one to partake in a gentleman's bet from time to time, but my blade is not on the table. Perhaps there is something else worth your while I could wager?”

Pursing her lips and flicking her whiskers, Reyna thought for a moment. The sun shone through the window with the view of the catnip fields. Rows and rows of green and purple, cats and dogs sifting carefully to prune each plant.

“If I win, you leave and tell your superiors they get nothing from me.”

Wager the success of his mission? Bartholomew wasn't entirely comfortable with that. Obviously if he were to make this wager he needs something equal in turn.

“Very well. If I win, you make fresh copies of all shipping records within the last two years and send your own courier to Ravenhome.”

A sly smirk pasted to her face.

“Done. I hope you know what you're getting into Sir Bart.”

Smiling lightly he looked her in the eyes.

“Also, stop calling me Bart.”

Reyna let out a guffaw and a chuckle. Pointing her paw at him she looked past him as the door opened.

“If you win, I'll stop calling you Bart. Deal.”

Rubbing his chin he debated arguing the details. He would much rather prefer she didn't call him Bart regardless of the outcome of the match. Something told him it wasn't worth the time. Tipping his hat to her, he turned around and walked out the mahogany door.

#####

 

Adjusting his padded outfit, Bartholomew felt like it was a size too small. Though tight, he could still move with relative ease. Pulling the sparring mask over his face, he prepared himself for a more controlled fight. He had gotten so used to fighting with the real thing. Fighting by rules will be much more difficult.

Pacing a few steps around the marble floor, he tried to get used to moving fully in the sparring suit.

“You look uncomfortable Sir Bart. Having second thoughts?”

He let out an audible laugh, though stopped it as soon as it came. He didn't wish to disrespect his host.

“No second thoughts m'lady. Simply being reminded of how different sparring is from real fighting with a sword. I assure you I aim to give you a match worth remembering.”

Pulling her mask down over her face, she signaled to a calico who tossed her a sparring sword. Bartholomew watched as another calico brought him his own sparring sword. Feeling the weight in his hands, Bartholomew wheeled his arm around once. It felt lighter than he was used to. That was an advantage.

She bounced on her feet lightly and warmed up her own arm. Bartholomew took a deep breath and readied himself for the ready. They both walked slowly towards each other until they were within steps of each other. Extending their arms, they crossed sparring swords and waited for the signal. Focusing everything he had, he watched her face intently.

“En Garde!”

A calico shouted and spurred a fury Bartholomew had never seen before. Within a moment she had pulled herself back to lunge. Thankfully Bartholomew had fought enough to be able to read it before it happened. Even with knowing it was coming, he nearly lost a point right off the bat. Swiping his own sword left and right, he parried her every move. She continued to grunt and thrust, lunge and swipe. For a moment, he thought she had caught an advantage in putting him on the defensive.

Her stamina betrayed her as she began to slow and become frenzied. Swipes turned into lunges. Calicos were talking to each other and placing their own bets on who would win. Loud cracks of steel echoed through the gymnasium. Grunts turned into shouting. Clearly she was getting frustrated. That was all he needed. A lunge turned sluggish, and he seized his opportunity.

Swiping her sword away, he lunged in turn and paced the bead tip of his sword directly in her sternum.

“Point!”

She stood up and stared into space a moment. The Calico's whispers turned to silence. Pulling her mask up, she had a grin from ear to ear.

“You Sir Bartholomew, have won yourself a duel. Not one of these sad saps have ever beaten me in a duel. You managed to beat me without even breaking a sweat. I can see when I am out matched.”

Pulling his mask up, Bartholomew smiled at her.

“Well, my dear, more often than not when I fight a single strike could mean the end of me. 'Tis a skill honed out of necessity.”

Throwing the sword down, she snapped at one of the Calicos in the corner of the gym.

“Go get the word to records, we're going to need double copies of all outgoing shipments for the last two years. Oh, and tell Darrel he is definitely getting extra paid time off for the extra work load. Have him come to me directly with any issues. We'll procure a courier when copies are complete.”

#####

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Bartholomew and Kvasir's Gardens

Bartholomew reveled in the smell and sight of the great Kvasir's gardens. Everything had been cross-bred to be massive. Well, at least to most of furmanity it was massive. At present he strolled through the lilac fields. Though these lilacs towered above him three stories tall. Bright pink, purple, and blue petals created a canopy, giving the light that made it through turn similar shades. It was as if his own eyes had taken to a specific color pallet that washed over a sea of brown and green.

Birds flew between the massive leafs and petals. Schools of small song birds played in the colorful light. They dove and dipped, riding the wind as deftly as any dolphin would ride the current. Smaller weeds and grass grew under paw. Various tubers and bulbs littered the ground. He had been told stories about these gardens.

Kvasir was a bee that lived a life of solitude, ever tending to his massive gardens. Bartholomew pondered the meaning of the strange giant's name. Tales of his wit and expansive knowledge had reached the ears of just about every developed society. It is said that the honey created by the great caretaker of this garden could give the consumer great intellect. Some say that is how Raven society had come to be. Bartholomew didn't know what to believe, so he sought answers for himself.

His old friend Ricky had told him of the garden's beauty many times. Being one of the few to experience it is truly a privilege. The smell of lilac filled his nostrils as he took a deep breath to take it all in.

Lo and behold, a cat so bold as to tread on my lands. Do you seek with your eyes or your hands? Treasures here you will indeed find, but they shine only for the mind. Tread carefully young feline, for all will be clear in due time.”

A voice quieter than a whisper yet perfectly clear tickled his ears. Poetics were never Bartholomew's strong suit. All he could do was survey his surroundings. There was nothing out of place besides himself, as far as he knew at least. Should he respond to this mysterious voice?

“I see. Is it possible it's unclear because of your cryptic poetics?”

Bartholomew couldn't help himself. He had a flare for drama himself, sure. There is however a point where it becomes... unnecessary.

Well, I mean if you're gonna be that way about it. Way to be a buzz kill man.”

This time the voice was loud and smoky. A buzzing came from above him and a bee the size of Bartholomew himself came floating down daintily. Pockets lined his safari jacket, accented by his straw sun hat and side bag. This bee was clearly out and about all day.

Bartholomew realized the pun placed slyly in his response. At least he can appreciate that level of wordplay.

“Terribly sorry good sir, but there's no time for kit-ten around!”

Kvasir coughed and waited a moment before responding with a sigh and a palm in his face.

“Oh great. Another pun master. You know you practically give furmanity it's ability to speak and all you get is puns. Kinda makes you wonder if it was all worth it, you know?”

Bartholomew was taken back a moment. There was so much said and yet with such a sarcastic tone. It seems Bartholomew may find his answers after all. Even if he'd rather not find them all. Kvasir looked up at a lilac and waved goodbye. Slowly he ascended in an attempt to leave Bartholomew behind entirely.

“Ah, pray forgive me kind sir. I was unaware of your distaste for puns. If it is your wish I will no longer use them.”

The bee perked up and looked back down at Bartholomew. Floating back down quickly he extended a hand to a very confused cat.

“I very much wish this yes! No offense, but it seems that's all I ever hear. Oh! Can we do the ominous poetry speak? Yet still there may be, a way for you to question me!

Bartholomew cocked an eyebrow and straightened his hat a moment. Placing his hand on the hilt of his sword, he pursed his lips in thought.

“Um. No. I'm not very good at poetry.”

The bee looked disappointed, but not overly so. With a half-smile he retorted with more poetics.

An effort you need not make, if these words are mine to take. Ahem, I mean do you mind if I do the ominous poetry speak?

Bartholomew thought a moment. He wanted to allow the bee to do something that clearly pleased him, but Bartholomew was not good at translating these things. Perhaps it was best to keep it to plain terms.

“It is not that I don't want you to have fun, good sir. It is simply that I have a hard time translating your words to true meaning when poetics are involved. Would you mind refraining?”

Now the bee looked disappointed. But not angry. Giving an audible sigh and a stagger, he pulled out a small jar from one of his jacket pockets. It's contents were clearly some kind of dark brown honey. Popping it open and taking a swig, he cringed, shivered, and sighed in relief.

“Oh fine. Have it your way. Come then.”

Beckoning for Bartholomew to follow, the bee floated above the ground carefully towards the edge of the lilac forest. Various stalks were lined up one after another to create a tree line with light shining through. The hues of purple and blue made it difficult to tell what was on the other side. As they crept closer Kvasir started to float upwards through a hole in the canopy.

“I'll meet you on the other side. Do watch your step as you exit the forest, there's a bit of a drop.”

Bartholomew nodded and held on to his hat as he stepped past two massive lilac stalks. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but he could see directly below him. A couple steps out and he found a cliff side that appeared to go down at least five hundred feet. Rocks skipped and fell across the surface with little sound as the wind whipped past him and ruffled his fur.

As soon as his eyes adjusted Bartholomew couldn't believe his eyes. A vast basin lay below with trees and massive flowers scattered alike. To the north a bed of six gigantic white tulips towered over a canopy of oak and birch. To the south a lake bigger than a small town was lined with snap dragons along the shore, and a water lily the size of a house sat on top of a pad that appeared to have something scurrying around on it.

“Welcome to Kvasir's Gardens. Were you referred or are you one of the unlucky few that just stumbles upon this magnificent place?”

Kvasir had flown up behind Bartholomew during his moment of awe, and nearly scared him off the side of the cliff. As for the question, Bartholomew had to think about it a moment. Ricky had told him tales of it's beauty. Bartholomew decided to investigate for himself.

“I suppose I'm here of my own accord... What do you mean unlucky few?”

Kvasir shrugged and scratched under his arm.

“Well most people who just stumble are pretty poor, and not that we look down on that but... They get sucked in with the giant flowers and then they see the attractions and try the food. Then they tell you 'We will take care of all your problems with unlimited access to the park, and all you've gotta do is work thirty hours a week!' Pshah! What a load of crap. At first it's thirty hours, then it's forty, then it's sixty because people don't just stumble in here on accident! Jeez you'd think they'd hire outside or something but noooo! They wanna keep it their exclusive club! Sure I get paid well but I don't ever have the-”

Bartholomew watched as the bee ranted about his working conditions. Taking another good look around, he saw a brochure stuck in the rock not two steps away. Picking it up, he read the front.

Kvasir's Gardens, Inspired Entertainment for Furmanity's Elite

Apparently Kvasir's Gardens was actually a hidden high society retreat.

Bartholomew Takes the Stage

Drawing his rapier, Bartholomew flicked his whiskers in confidence. Rays of sun radiated from his orange fur. An image drew within his mind of how valiant he must look to the common eye. Building conviction, he swung his sword fiercely at the air. Demonstrating his martial prowess for others was always a favorite pass time for him. It was good to know people believed in his ability to defend them.

“And then, my good people, I made quick work of the bulldog that was determined to stand in my way! With a distracting slash and a strike from the flat of the blade-”

A quick flick of the wrist was all it took to show exactly what he had done. Though it was true the tale is exaggerated, the truth is often times much less glorious than the stories we base them on.

“... and my foe was out cold on the floor! I didn't even need to draw blood in order to triumph over this obstacle!”

The bustling crowd that had gathered into the small wooden amphitheater cheered in jubilation. Praises were exclaimed over the bustling noise of the passionate gathering.

“That my friends, is why we must strive to think of others as if they have just as much right to live as we. I found in my training that it is not terribly difficult to kill your opponent. It is vastly more difficult to effectively render them incapacitated so that-”

A squeaky young voice of a girl shouted above the now silent crowd.

“What's inka-pass-ee-tatered mean?”

Looking towards the crown in front of him, he saw the young one asking. Bartholomew also noticed that everyone gathered around him was a young one. Kittens, all of them. In the back was two male cats chatting and laughing. A Siamese and a black tabby.

Bartholomew didn't know what to do. His enamored crowd was nothing more than a group of youngsters who liked to hear stories. Was he simply babysitting for the local couples?

“What happened to the bulldog after? C'mon mister the bulldog was cool! We want more of the Bulldog!”

One youngster shouted above the group, inspiring the entire group of them to begin shouting and asking themselves the same thing. Bartholomew sheathed his sword, took a deep breath, and wondered how he got here. Perhaps this would be the last time he agreed to put on a show for his friend's catnip festival. Sitting on the edge of the stage, he put his paw under his chin, frowned, and muttered under his breath.
    
“Don't know... Don't care...”

Bartholomew Meets Sir Jerome

Bartholomew knew it best to trust his instincts. Perhaps his good friend Sir Thomas had known the contact he had given Bartholomew would be a perturbing experience. Regardless of his fellow's trust in those which cannot be trusted is misguided. Perhaps it is not. Something about his instincts bothered him.

Twitching his whiskers and fidgeting with the hilt of his sword, he tried to appear nonchalant to his new companion. Though deep down in his gut, he knew he could never truly trust a mouse. Sir Jerome stood not four inches tall on his hind legs. Dressed in traditional rapier and feathered cap, he truly was a strange sight for a cat to behold.

“Sir Thomas has spoken highly of you, good Sir. I trust he has filled you in on our dealings here?”

It was all Bartholomew could do to keep from lashing out. It felt wrong to even address a mouse. Sitting at a simple wood table, Jerome stood on the table across from Bartholomew. The smell of cheese and fish lingered in the air among the musty stench of dust and mold. A light warm breeze tickled their whiskers as it escorted the scent of food.

“In fact, good Sir he has not.”

Sir Jerome gave Bartholomew a neutral glance as he spoke. It would appear he also did not want to seem disturbed. Bartholomew thought a moment. Placing his paw face down on the table, he looked at Sir Thomas intently.

“It appears we are both in a... strange position? Might I make a personal inquiry good Sir Jerome?”

Jerome gave a troubled glance at Bartholomew's paw. It was nearly bigger than the mouse himself. After a moment of searching for intent, Jerome gave a simple sigh and a nod.

“You may indeed.”

A twinkle formed in Bartholomew's eye. His gut felt better. His instincts subsided and he was able to think clearly even if for a moment. It was always best to take advantage of such clarity of mind.

“Thank you. You do not trust cats, do you?”

Jerome looked oddly surprised and instantly looked down at the table.

“It's ok, Sir Jerome. I do not trust mice either. However, it does not mean we cannot trust each other. Sir Thomas is a dear friend. I trust his judgment. If he believes you are worthy of a cat's trust, then I will trust you. Will you trust me?”

Bartholomew gingerly turned his palm face up.

Bartholomew and the Bulldog

Adjusting his tabard, Bartholomew pulled his short sword from it's scabbard. It gleaned in the sunlight like a beacon of hope in these trying times. A breeze brushed his face, carrying with it the sweet scent of dandelions and honeysuckle. An eery quiet fell over the valley as he stood there among the soft grass swaying in the wind.

Before him stood a formidable bulldog, his arms crossed and staring intently at Bartholomew. His brown and white splotched fur blended well with his black cabby hat. Behind the guard was a door Bartholomew must get into. It was a dire situation that called for dire actions, and now was the time for action.

“I say good sir, I must enter the door behind you to save my dear friend Ricky! Might you find it in your heart to allow a kind soul entry in his time of need?”

The dog grunted and pointed at Bartholomew with ferocity.

“Ain't lettin' a pup like you in 'ere. Dunno 'oo dis Ricky is but I ain't ever 'eard of 'im. Dun matter to me wut 'appens. Just doin' my job here, you understand.”

Bartholomew's heart sank. Now he must fight to save his dearest of raven friends!

“Very well sir, have at you then!”

Charging with all his orange fluffy might, Bartholomew swung at the bulldog with a quickness only a cat could muster. Slash after slash, the dog stood there looking at the wiry cat like he was insane. None of these attacks were even getting close to hurting the dog, as the blade never even so much as blew a breeze in his direction.

“Ha ho! What say you now dog? You only get one warning!”

The dog crossed his arms again, and began to pick his nose slightly with his nail. Without missing a beat, Bartholomew began swinging wildly again. Again the blade danced in a fearsome display. Fearsome if the blade had actually ever met it's mark. Bartholomew began to pick up his showmanship of swordplay. Jumping more, and slashing faster, the dog stopped picking his nose and let out a big yawn.

“See, yer still a pup. Can't even go frough with 'urtin' yer enemy. Ain't nottin' 'ere fer the likes of you kitten.”

With a swift backhand, the dog stuck Bartholomew and sent him flying a few feet. His sword flew out of his hands, and flew upwards. It spun in the air until coming down and skewering the ground right next to Bartholomew. With a shake of his head, Bartholomew stood up and clutched his sword. Putting his sword back in it's scabbard, he walked up to the dog with a very unhappy look on his face.

“'Atcha gonna do pup? Scratch me?”

The bulldog laughed heartily, staring down at the poor cat in front of him. Cocking an eyebrow, Bartholomew jumped up and slammed his paw into the dog's nose as hard as he could. As the dog reeled in pain, Bartholomew opened the door and slipped inside.

 

Bartholomew and the Tower of the Squid Lord

It's not every day that a cat got to see underneath the ocean. Bartholomew greatly appreciated his raven friends' technology. Somehow, they had come up with the most clever ways among animals to build structures that could move them to extreme places in search of treasure. This day, Bartholomew held his hand over his sword scabbard with pride on his face. For outside the submarine window, was a coral reef that his kind had never seen before.

Supposedly the oceans were vast, terrifying places. Fish of all sizes occupied them and gave them life. Plant life even grew under water, simply under different rules. Scratching his chin with other hand and flicking his whiskers, Bartholomew pondered what it was the ravens might be after underneath the water. Besides shiny stones that is.

His tail swung back and forth behind him, flicking every once in a while as a reminder he had a tail. Ricky, his dapper raven friend had approached him from behind without his notice.

“Well my friend, what do you think of the deep blue sea? Is it not a wonderful sight to behold? Such vastness of life in many forms! Will we ever truly know everything about such a diverse ecosystem?”

Pulling from a hickory pipe, Ricky hopped up behind Bartholomew with clicking of claws on the steel floor. While Bartholomew was a formidable orange tabby, Ricky was still greater in size as he was in intellect.

“It's amazing Ricky! You ravens will go great lengths to obtain your stones won't you? What exactly are we looking for today old bean?”

Adjusting his raven lord's tabard, Bartholomew looked around at all of the bells and whistles of the machine he rode inside that kept him safe among the waves. Gears turned, steam vented, valves turned on their own. Ravens perched atop copper pipes with the all too familiar black coating that no doubt kept their feet safe from the immensely hot steam traveling through the pipes.

“Today we are looking for the Tower of the Squid Lord sir Bartholomew. Lord Cool Thool will be pleased to meet a new species from the surface. Much as I am sure you would be pleased to meet the ruler of the entire Blahdee Ocean. Are you ready for this?”

There was weight in his words. Something just felt wonderful in my heart of hearts about meeting such a distinguished ruler. Supposedly he had fountains, temples, and even scratching posts made of gold. Perhaps that last part was just wishful thinking.

The submarine shifted and jutted, coming to a stop. Bartholomew had to hold on to a nearby pipe to keep from falling over. A chime came through the loudspeaker and ravens began cawing in approval.

“Well my friend, would you like to meet Lord Cool Thool? He is waiting for us on the other side of this magical breathing barrier.”

Bartholomew flicked a whisker, got a twinkle in his eye and took a deep breath. The hatch opened, and water floated just outside of it. On the other side of that barrier was Lord Cool Thool.

Bartholomew and the Raven's Undying Search

Bartholomew had never ridden a raven airship before. His feathered Raven friends were gracious enough to show him technology and magic. The design was flawless, with shiny stones and feathers attached to scaffolding and lift engines alike. Surely there had never been a finer piece of engineering yet known to Raven kind.

“You see my fine furry friend, we Ravens value one thing over everything else. That is why these airships were built using our magic.”

Walking him through the copper planks and steam valves through the airship's engine room, Ravens were perched on pipes that had protective coatings to keep the temperature of the steam from burning their feet. Wearing everything from top hats, bow ties, and even monocles, the ravens talked amongst themselves.

“This way leads to our observation deck. Won't you join me?”

Pointing with his massive black wing, he summoned Bartholomew through a collection of pipes that led into a room. Bowing as politely as he could, Bartholomew ruffled his whiskers and flicked his tail in pleasure.

“I would be delighted dear friend!”

Ricky had been his friend for many moons, but it was not until this day that he decided Bartholomew was worthy of sharing the secrets of the Ravens. Today was a red letter day! Not even most ravens have seen what Bartholomew was about to. A technology so secret and powerful, it has been hidden from all but the select few of Raven inner society.

Turning and walking through the pipes, Bartholomew's little heart fluttered and pulsed sharply. Excitement gripped him as the light from the room evened out to reveal in plain sight what had been hidden for so long. A room full of computers hooked up to telescopes outside of the airship. Hundreds of them all scanning and calculating every inch of the ground.

“By golly chap! This is incredible! What exactly is it doing?”

Walking over to one of the big screens in the middle, Ricky pointed his wing at the display. Pebbles large and small appeared on it's screen. In a matter of seconds, several were revealed and detailed. Small numbers shown near each and every rock, though many were the same.

“It is doing the work that Ravens have been doing for a near infinite number of moons. Searching for shiny pebbles! It is what we Ravens do! It's quite brilliant really! See it sends the co-ordinates to a central database so that we can send teams-”

Ricky droned on for hours, while Bartholomew was left to ponder what exactly this meant. This meant that this big secret power that Ravens had been toting over every other species was a supercomputer designed to find polished stones.